By Mehr Tarar
23 November 2013
Mixed emotions stirred here in Pakistan when Malala Yousafzai came within kissing distance of the Nobel Prize. The reaction was reminiscent of how we felt when Sharmeen Chinoy’s Saving Face was up for an Oscar: great to be noticed by the world, but how tragic that the path to such recognition was paved with acid burnt faces.
The deplorable act of attacking Malala increased the aversion felt for the Taliban among ordinary Pakistanis. But terrorists do not feed on public support; their demented ideology is sustenance enough. Pakistanis wept when Malala was battling for her life, and heaved a sigh of relief when she survived. We are proud that she has thrived. As for her moving to England, it affirms our view that the West has an equal penchant for inflicting and preventing pain. And as for the ban on her book, it is the manifestation of the oriental tendency to brush unpleasantness under the Persian carpet; we don’t fancy the confessional culture of the West, thank you very much.
That her book has been banned by Pakistani private schools has motivated me to buy an extra copy for my son. The same will be true for plenty like me, who live in comfortable, metropolitan places like Lahore. We will sit down with our children and ask why an 11-year-old girl in a small, primitive town got shot in the head for pursuing her fundamental right to education. The answer will be a stark reminder of the nature of these self-interested fanatics masquerading as messiahs: they do not consider any flower too beautiful to destroy.
The Taliban made the ultimate expression of impotent rage by attacking Malala; for them, she is like a piece of crockery broken by a man who cannot harm his real tormentor. But for the West, it seems, Malala is the latest prop in the tragicomedy of Afghanistan — a military adventure gone horribly wrong. From the Oval Office to Buckingham Palace, she has chatted to world leaders in an easy manner that eludes our crustier politicians. The West has become intoxicated by this extraordinary girl and her story. She seemed to embody the struggle that has occupied these past ten years, and seemed to offer justification for all the blood, sweat and tears.
There is no equivalent effect in Pakistan. Malala does not change the fact that the Muslim world has received disproportionate revenge for the 9/11 attacks. Nor that the western powers still seem engaged in a neo-colonial game, with natural resources as the prize. To most in Pakistan, Western values are embodied not so much in brave schoolgirls but the repressive Muslim regimes supported by London and Washington as long as they are on the ‘right’ side of the political divide. If a public execution or amputation happens in Saudi Arabia, its ‘domestic law enforcement.’ If it happens in Iran or Syria, it’s an atrocity. This is about right to life, not just education. When a girls’ school in Mecca caught fire and girls died because the religious police wouldn’t let them escape unless properly dressed, where was the Western governmental outrage? Reserved, it seems, for regimes who don’t sell them oil.
Plenty of us Pakistanis — including my 13 old year son Musa — believe that education is a right for which it’s worth getting shot. But for as long as the West continues its deeply selective approach to fundamentalism, it’s far from clear that Malala’s values really are those the West wants for the entire Muslim world.